Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Saint Pius V: Pope of The Holy Rosary. By C. M. Antony. Part 3.


"Without attempting to write an apology for the Inquisition it may be useful to state the principle on which it was founded. We must remember . . . that what is called in our days ' religious liberty' —that is, the supposed right of every one not only to believe in his own mind, but also to preach and teach his own opinions upon revealed truth, however repugnant those opinions may be to the doctrines of the Church—was utterly unknown anywhere in the sixteenth century. There was only one Church throughout Christendom, with the Pope at its head. The Church was acknowledged by all as a spiritual kingdom founded by Christ, teaching and ruling by His authority; and all men considered it the duty, not only of the Church, but of the secular government also, to prevent heresy from being preached or disseminated by books among the people. All government then was what we should call 'paternal' and as only one Church and one revealed doctrine was recognized, it was considered high treason against God and the authority of the State, to allow false doctrine to be preached." 1

It is perhaps unnecessary to add that just as " paternal government" is not the accepted ideal of the twentieth century, so punishments that were looked upon in mediaeval days as the inevitable consequences of certain acts, 2 would now be regarded with horror and amazement

Perhaps the chief accusation made against the Inquisition is that it used torture as a means of discovering the truth. In certain cases (with strictly-regulated precautions) it did so, but then, so did every civilized government throughout the world, without precautions! The practice had never been discontinued from pagan times. The sentimental humanitarianism which shrieks at the execution (and sometimes the imprisonment) of a popular murderer,-if sufficiently interesting, was unknown in the sixteenth century. 3

As the future history of St. Pius V is interwoven with that of the Roman Inquisition it is well to make this clear. We are called upon to defend him from those who would arraign him as an active and distinguished member of a cruel and bloodthirsty tribunal. To this charge his own life is the best answer. Appointed in 1543, the year after the re-constitution by Paul III of the Roman Inquisition, as Inquisitor at Como, and in the Swiss Grisons, he accepted the post in all humility, prepared, like St. Peter Martyr, to lay down his life for the Faith.

Switzerland was by that time a teeming centre of heresy. Colporteurs, laden with Lutheran and other heretical books, were continually passing across the Italian frontier to scatter their poisonous wares among the simple mountain folk. These books, as might be expected, were not only against faith but against morals, though as their real nature was carefully concealed, and they were seldom openly proclaimed as heretical productions, ignorant Catholics were in much danger of being deceived by them. It was against this importation of books that the new inquisitor waged unceasing war. His first step was to familiarize himself with the new scene of his labours. Night and day he travelled, alone and on foot No town or village was passed over as unimportant, no heretic did he meet whom he did not try to lead back to the light of Truth. "There was no cave so obscure" says a quaint old writer, " in those savage Grisons into which he had not penetrated." For six years he worked quietly and unremittingly, often in danger of assassination, for traps and ambushes were continually laid for him. But he escaped them all, for his time was not yet.

Great as his zeal was, it never outran discretion. But his passionate devotion to Holy Church was to bring him into sharp collision with Catholics. One of the saddest things in his magnificent story is to see how not once nor twice those who should have been the first to help him and uphold his authority did their best to oppose him, and even appealed against him to the civil power. Their temporal interests, their commerce, had been touched and they resented it hotly.

But Michael Ghislieri was absolutely fearless, absolutely uncompromising, regardless of the opinion either of Catholic or Protestant. Having before his eyes the honour of God only, he did his duty on grand and straightforward lines, whether it was the capture of a bale of heretic books, or the excommunication of a great Queen !

In 1549 he learned that a large consignment of a most virulent heretical book had been secretly printed at Poschiavo, and was to be sent to Como for private distribution.

Occasionally such smuggling had been carried successfully through, but this time the vigilant Inquisitor was forewarned.

He went to the house of the merchant who had brought the books (pretending they were ordinary goods) had the twelve bales opened, seized the volumes, and threatened the merchant with excommunication if he attempted to repossess himself of them.

The See of Como was then vacant, but the enraged merchant rushed to the Vicar-Capitular, to ask him to interfere, and order this high-handed Dominican immediately to restore his property. But the Inquisitor declined to acknowledge the Vicar's authority, 4 for Como was in the position of a town under martial law. He declined to restore the books. In justice to the Vicar-Capitular we must suppose he did not realize their heretical nature.

The merchant, however, having obtained them by force or fraud, the intrepid Inquisitor excommunicated the Vicar, the Chapter, and all who had assisted the man to withdraw them from his custody! He then sent a detailed report to the Holy Office, where his action was unanimously approved, and the whole Chapter of Como was summoned to Rome! As most of its members belonged to noble or wealthy families, the entire town was raised against the stern Dominican, who was doing his best, so said every one, to spoil the Swiss trade. It is to Como that the distinction belongs of allowing a Dominican Inquisitor, a future Pope and Saint, to be stoned through its streets by a Catholic population ! One powerful nobleman so far forgot himself as to threaten to throw Father Michael down a well. " That will be as God chooses," replied the Inquisitor, quietly, and went on with his usual work.

The Chapter next appealed to the civil power,— the regular course for those inclined to heresy. The Inquisitor was imperiously summoned to appear before the Governor of Milan. Warned of an ambush to assassinate him on the way, he chose a different route, and walking the ten leagues during the night, arrived at Milan in the morning. When he appeared before the Governor, Gonzaga, to insult him still further, took no notice of him at all, but left him standing till all the other cases were disposed of; when, glaring angrily at the Inquisitor for a moment, he left the hall. Scarcely had he done so when a friend of Fr. Michael's hastened to him with the news that he was about to be imprisoned, and counselled him to escape immediately. He thanked the nobleman, went out, procured a mule, and set off at once for Rome, which he reached in a few days.

Arriving at the Monastery of Sta. Sabina, he asked for the Prior. This dignitary, mindful of the rule of the Order, that no friar was ever to come to Rome without special permission, thought well to say ironically : " What do you seek here ? Are you thinking of becoming Pope? 5 Perhaps the Cardinals have already elected you ? " To this the holy friar quietly answered: " For the cause of Christ I am here, and for no other reason. I ask only a short hospitality, and a little hay for my mule." It was Christmas Eve, 1549; he was wet, cold and weary. This was the welcome of the future Pope to the Eternal City!

When the Inquisitor presented himself before the Holy Office and told the story of Como with simplicity and directness, the Cardinals were so impressed that the Vicar and Canons of Como, who had by this time all arrived, in much excitement, could prevail nothing. One or two of the Holy Office, however, said to Fr. Michael that perhaps he had been a little severe! " Nothing," cried the dauntless Dominican, " can be too severe for those who attempt to oppose the ministers of religion by the civil power!" From this simple, essential principle no consideration, personal, temporal, or material, could ever move him.

So greatly did he impress the Holy Office as absolutely fearless and reliable that henceforth he was specially reserved for important tasks. The Vicar and Chapter of Como were condemned and punished. But these things did not make the Inquisitor popular with lax Catholics!

While Father Michael was in Rome in the spring of 1550, a dispute over the election of a new Bishop of Coire, in the Grisons, was referred to the Holy Office, and he was considered the fittest person to judge the cause. It was one of those sad but frequent cases where a bishopric was hotly disputed between two rival candidates. These were two Canons, Pianti and Salici, both of good family, of whom the former had the greater number of votes, but was accused of bribery, suspected of heresy, and known to lead a very lax life. Fr. Michael set out on foot for Coire, and as he had to pass through the very district where he had just made himself so unpopular, and as heretics swarmed in the Grisons, he was strongly advised to lay aside his habit and travel in disguise. To this he replied, characteristically: "When I accepted the office of Inquisitor I also accepted almost certain death. For what more glorious reason could I die than because I wear the white habit of St Dominic ? " He walked through Lombardy alone, armed only with his staff and his breviary, and such was the respect that even heretics now felt for him that he was unmolested. He reached Coire, passed sentence in the case, condemned Pianti, and installed Salici as Bishop without the slightest attempt being made upon him.

Just at this time the Inquisitor at Bergamo, a beautiful old town near Como, being absent, Fr. Michael was unanimously proposed to take his place. " Whenever some one of marvellous strength and energy is needed, Michael seems to be the person to be sent," quoted the Cardinals. 6 For at Bergamo a certain lawyer, Medolago, was openly preaching the most pestilential heresy. As he was rich and powerful no previous Inquisitor had dared to proceed against him, lest he should run the risk of assassination. 7

Father Michael did not imitate this cowardice. Assuring himself first of the heretical propaganda, he caused Medolago to be seized unawares, and flung into prison. He was a convinced and obstinate heretic; all attempts to enlighten him were vain. He was finally condemned and transported to Venice, where he died in prison. 8

But a still more serious danger menaced the ancient city. Vittorio Soranzo, Bishop of Bergamo, had become secretly a Lutheran.

Life of St. Pius V," by Fr. Bertrand Wilberforce, O.P. (C.T.S., Id.).

In Spain, France, Germany, and Italy the civil penalty for blasphemy, even in anger, was death. Legal penalties are still attached to this offence in England.

In England, up to the eighteenth century, a wife who murdered her husband was burned alive. In the reign of Charles II the penalty for clipping the King's coin was boiling in oil! These barbarous punishments were the order of the day in mediaeval times, and it was perfectly understood that they were the consequences of certain crimes. Our ancestors, less sensitive than ourselves, were curiously indifferent to torture, and even death.

4 Inquisitors were directly responsible to the Holy Office; a board of Cardinals in Rome.

5 Pope Paul III died 1o Nov., 1549. His successor, Julius III, was not elected till 7 Feb., 1550. The Cardinals were at this time in conclave. It was on this occasion that Cardinal Pole was so nearly elected to the Papacy.

6 St. Gregory, Hom, 34, on the Gospels.

7 "In maximum periculum," Gabut, I, 2.

8 His friends, who had actually effected his escape from prison at Bergamo, were so terrified at the censures launched against them by Father Michael that of their own accord they brought him back!